No Grand Coalition! Opponents of Merkel alliance hit the road

WERNIGERODE, Germany (Reuters) – Opponents of a renewed German “grand coalition” took to the road on Saturday, hoping to persuade members of their Social Democratic Party (SPD) to vote against governing with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives for another four years.

The party’s rank-and-file, bruised after seeing the SPD’s previous stint as Merkel’s junior partner lead to its worst election result since 1933, is wary of its leaders’ calls for the party to step up for the sake of Germany’s stability.

Leaders of the SPD and the conservative camp thrashed out a 28-page blueprint for a possible “GroKo” grand coalition government this week, recommending that their parties hold formal coalition talks.

But at a regional party meeting in Wernigerode, a medieval town of half-timbered buildings at the foot of the thickly forested Harz hills, delegates wrestled with the issue which has split the party down the middle.

“Important demands that the SPD made ahead of the elections are simply not in the document,” said Kevin Kuehnert, leader of the SPD’s Jusos youth wing, who will spend the next week criss-crossing the country arguing for delegates to vote “No” to coalition talks at a special party congress next Saturday.

“We Jusos aren’t going to make ourselves the servants of a Black (conservative) government that demands deportations or a refugee camp,” said Florian Luedke, a local youth delegate wearing a “NoGroKo” badge, to applause.

Their message resonated at the regional party conference in Wernigerode, where delegates voted 52-51 against pursuing negotiations on a grand coalition. There were four abstentions, the SPD said.

The slump in the SPD vote in the Sept. 24 national election has left the membership in a contrary mood, with many calling for the party to reinvent itself in opposition rather than attempt to implement what they see as thin gruel in the coalition blueprint.

The document is sprinkled with pledges – on strengthening the European Union, on supporting refugees, on tax and pensions – designed to appeal to the more radical membership.

But most fall far short of what the SPD campaigned for in the election. A tax hike for the wealthy or the establishment of parity between private and public healthcare were absent from the document thrashed out with Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and her still more conservative Bavarian CSU allies.

Acting German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) speaks during a press…

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